You are on page 1of 8


Disclaimer: This is a work of complete fiction and will be presented in four chapters. Some officers and men mentioned in this story
have served in 17 Kumaon Regiment of the Indian Army. Some are the creation of my fertile imagination. All places exist, as does
CITS, Sarol. Many of you wanted to know how life is in the army and what happens when a unit moves from a peace location into
operations. Here it is.

Day & Date: 23 June 1996

Location: Tibri Cantt, Gurdaspur (Punjab)

The bile in my stomach started to rise and this time, it would not stay down. It came up rushing from my gut as I ran towards the
toilet and came gushing out of my mouth. Whiskey and other sins lay splattered on the floor. Another heave followed by a few more
and I was retching on an empty stomach. My head hurt like a goblin had crawled up on me gently without a sound and hit me three
millimeters above my temple with the hammer of Thor.

Saturday night was when the Jat unit of our brigade decided to give us a farewell party. I am a moderate drinker, if at all. But the
youngsters of the Jat unit decided that they would give us a farewell party we would never forget.

I staggered to my bunk and sat down, reaching for a glass of water. I drank a sip, unwilling to drink more and felt a gentle hand on
my shoulder.

Drink up, Sir said Capt. Varun Batra, my company 2-i-C (second in command).

Yes mother, I croaked, taking two more sips.

Feeling better, Sir? Varun was all concern.

Shut up, Varun. My head is breaking into pieces, I snapped irritably.

Varun walked to the medicine cabinet and took out two Disprins, poured a glass of water and let the tablets dissolve. He handed the
glass to me and waited.

I took a long look at the glass and slowly downed the foul liquid.

Fifteen minutes, Sir. In fifteen minutes you will be rocking said Varun. In Varuns scheme of things, everything, which was good,
was rocking. If you got a 9 pointer ACR (annual confidential report), you were rocking. If you almost got a nine pointer, you were
almost rocking. If you were dead, you stopped rocking. The world was divided into those who rocked and those who did not.

We sat in silence and soon the tablets were working their magic. Varun stepped outside and walked across the narrow dirt road to
the officers mess.

Mess he howled.

Koi hai? he added in a fake British accent, his take on how a young British officer would have sounded in the early twentieth

Ji sahib was the immediate response. Out rushed Mess Havildar Dharam Singh, all of five feet nothing and a middle, which would
have done a halwai proud.

Two cups of tea, please Varun said. Dharam was already running to comply. Unit legend had it that Dharam Singhs original name
was Samay Singh and Subalterns of 17 Kumaon Regiment being a one-of-a-kind species, started calling him Time Lion. The
Commanding Officer found this strange and so, by the powers vested in him by the President of India, he ordered the adjutant to
change Samays name to Dharam Singh vide a Special BRO (Battalion Routine Order). Dharam Singh was handed over a copy of the
BRO and the deed was done. Time Lion became Religious Lion.

I was feeling better now was ready for another day. Varun entered and sat down on my study chair.

Another farewell party today. Its going to be rocking, Sir.

I didnt want to speak about any party of any kind and motioned to Varun to let me have some peace and get out of my room. It was
Sunday and I wanted peace. Varun ignored me. He started whistling a mangled version of Cocaine. He was a happy man. He was
rocking. I lay down on my bed and closed my eyes and tried to sleep.

Later in the evening, we landed at the Rajputana Rifles Officers Mess. The Brigade Commander had not yet arrived. Mess waiters
wearing Rajasthani safas or ceremonial turbans stood attentively. Soon enough the brigade commander arrived in his trademark
black staff car, along with his lady wife. In the army, all wives are called lady wives for some reason; as if there are any other kind.
His Brigade Major in a Gypsy, accompanied by his lady wife, followed him. We were soon inundated with top brass and their lady
wives and the party got going.

The Brigade Commander walked about the lawn meeting everyone and soon came to where Varun, a few youngsters and I were
standing. He shook hands with all of us and settled comfortably in a corner.

I hope you are looking after yourselves he said. There are a few sentences very typical to the Indian Army and this was one.
Logically, this sentence has no meaning and is as inane as asking a person standing in front of you Oh, you are here? When a
Brigade Commander says it, it becomes an exercise in welfare and morale boosting. If a Captain says it, it sounds hollow. It actually

So, the battalion is moving from a peace area to a field area said the commander.

Yes, Sir, Varun answered.

The commander knitted his eyebrows, making an effort to remember. It must be my old age, he said. Everyone laughed politely.

Poonch & Rajouri Sector, Sir Varun said helpfully.

Ah yes the commander slapped his forehead and added, Please enjoy yourselves, gentlemen.

As the commander moved on to another group, Varun said cheers to everyone. Winking at me, he said Sir, I have a ready supply of
Disprins for you.

Cheers I winked back and raised a toast.

And this is where our little story begins. The story of how 17 Kumaon was launched into operations on the Line of Control.


Day & Date: 19 July 1996

Location: Transit Camp, Sundarbani (Jammu & Kashmir)

The army camp at Sundarbani has no evident reason to exist except to feed passing army men. A small mess and camp on the left
hand side of the road is immediately followed by a signal detachment. That is the beginning and the end of this dot on the map. It is
quiet and non-descript. But beyond the meandering roads of Sundarbani were small towns with names like Surankote, Bhimbar
Gali, Krishna Ghati and Mendar. Poonch lay further to the North, at the feet of the Pir Panjal mountain ranges. These names
sounded odd and new to our ears.

Major RK Anuj, Adjutant 17 Kumaon, walked up to where Varun, Capt. SK Anand, Lt. Padmaja Kishore and I were standing.

Hi guys, said Anuj. He was unusually cheerful, which boded well for us youngsters. With Anuj, you never could be sure and a
response would surely have to be measured. It could be an ambush. It could meanif you are so cheerful it means you are free and
have no work, orwhy shouldnt you be held accountable for the state of the rain forests in Brazil etc. But even with Anuj, sometimes
a Hi was simply a greeting.

Hi Sir, I answered. Anuj was just 3 months senior to me but had already acquired the aura of a full colonel.

So, whats up? Had lunch? he asked.

Varun looked at Maj. Anuj with suspicion and then decided that it was a genuine question with no hidden meaning. It was safe to
answer this question.

Yes Sir. What about you? asked Varun, tentatively.

Yeah, I just finished mine. Hey, we have a holiday tomorrow so that we can settle down and get our bearings right. Training starts
the day after.

We got into our vehicles and soon our convoy was rolling up the hillocks. I looked back to check is the convoy was moving behind us
and saw that it was gently gathering speed. Naik Khima Nand of Charlie Company had a good game of teen-patti going at the back of
our one-ton truck. A few boys had joined in and betting was in progress. The Indian army soldier can do anything under the sun. He
can make tea while walking in the snow; repair a punctured radiator using resins and produce ice cubes in a Belgian crystal glass full
of Thumbs Up in the middle of a desert exercise deep inside Mahajan Field Firing Range at 50 degrees centigrade. The last one is
another story altogether but we dont want to waste time on inconsequential gossip, do we?

Naik Khima Nand was the danda man of our vehicle. It is very difficult to explain to a civilian what a danda man is, or what his
responsibilities are. Suffice it to say that each heavy vehicle needs one to sit in the rear. It is written in some godforsaken army order
and that is logic enough. Our danda man was obviously winning and letting the world know. Soon enough, he was taking bets from
Subedar Bhim Singh who was the co-driver of the water tanker right behind us. My regimental forefathers at the Kumaon
Regimental Centre would weep in heaven if they ever saw this spectacle. Is this why they taught field craft and sign language to our
brave soldiers? So that they could place teen-patti bets?

Our journey continued for hours and the greenery grew denser as we climbed higher. A chill was beginning to set in as the sun was
well into its westward journey. Suddenly we took a left turn and into what seemed like an army-training zone. The ominous
signboard said Trespassing Prohibited. In Punjab it would have meant that an MP (Military Police) would have escorted you out of
the army area. In Kashmir it meant that you would be shot. The laws of engagement were different in Kashmir.

Soon a larger and much warmer signboard greeted us Welcome to CITS Sarol. CITS or Counter Insurgency Training School,
Sarol was the nursery where troops and officers were given their first exposure to anti-terror operations. This is where we shed our
conventional warfare mindset and learned the basics of operating in small teams. Here, the focus was on irregular warfare and
special operations.

I opened the door of my rickety one-ton and stepped out. I winced with pain as my back straightened after five hours of bad roads
and worse driving. Stretching my body, I looked around. The advance party of 17 Kumaon waited for us serving hot tea, biscuits and
pakoras. Beaming cheerfully was Maj. PK Nair, leader of the advance party and Officer Commanding HQ Company. I saluted him
and he grabbed me by the shoulders, happy at seeing known faces.

Thum kaise honge? said Maj. Nair with an air or cocksureness, which saidtry finding fault with my Hindi now, you idiot. Maj.
Nairs Hindi had shown little improvement even after twelve years with Kumaoni troops. His Hindi became part of the officers mess
folklore after he regaled us with stories of a beautiful romantic movie he had seen called Dhilwaale Dhulaniya le jaate honge.

Hum theek honge, Sir, I responded with a straight face. Maj. Nair was an absolute delight to be with.

This is 2nd Lt. Sam said Maj. Nair, introducing me to a skinny, tall youngster by his side.

Good evening, Sir. I am 2nd Lt. Shahnawaz Abdul Malik. You can call me Sam, he said. I liked him immediately. He seemed an
affable sort of fellow with a determined face and big, kind eyes.

Welcome to 17 Kumaon, Sam I said, shaking his hand.

Thank you, Sir, he said and then excused himself. He has guests to attend to.

Unloading of material started immediately after tea and by the time I had seen the surrounding area and gone through a round of
passive smoking with Maj. Anuj, my bed had been laid and my luggage neatly unpacked in a standard Indian Army issue type 180pound tent. My faithful sahayak stood by the tent flap with a grin a mile wide.

Ram, Ram sahab, Lance Naik Ramesh Chandra, said. As with all Kumaonis, his sahab sounded like saaaaab with the volume
riding on the back of multiple a and ending abruptly at b. He stood at attention with his hands by his side, his heels raised. It
looked as if he was a rocket about to take off.

Ram, Ram Ramesh. Kaiso ho? I said, shaking his hand.

Kumaonis never let the chance to tell a good story slip by. In five minutes I had the entire unit gossip on my fingertips. The terrorists
knew that the Kumaonis were coming and the word had spread as far as Islamabad. The ISI was understandably disturbed about us,
especially Charlie Company. We had the Pakistan Army worried.

Ramesh, this simple village lad, believed all this from the core of his heart. You may well find such naivety surprising but in battle it
is known to have moved mountains. It was simple, really. What you truly believed, you could accomplish. People call it
brainwashing. Well, whatever works.

Much later, having bathed and changed our clothes, we gathered in our makeshift officers mess for a simple meal of vegetables,
chapattis and dal. Having finished dinner, we walked back to our tents for a good nights sleep.

The lanterns were dimmed and we were relaxed as the next day was a holiday for us. Our chattering slowed to a low hum and only
the smokers amongst us were awake.

Our tents were pitched at the bottom of a small hill, no more than an undulation in the ground. Covered with grass, it was the ideal
place for Anuj and the cancer brotherhood to grab a last smoke before sleeping. Suddenly, we heard voices and about a dozen

figures started walking down the hill, taking a small track to our right. I got up from my bed and walked to where Maj. Anuj and Maj.
GC Gaur were sitting. The figures came closer. All were dressed in black dungarees and all were armed. Each person carried an
automatic weapon and a side arm. I could not recognize the regiment these men belonged to and their weaponry looked strange.
They wore no ranks and some of them were masked.

Are these Rashtriya Rifles guys, Sir? Which weapons are they carrying? I asked Maj. Gaur. I had heard about RR people wearing

51 Special Action Group of the NSG. These guys are trained for anti-terrorist operations. The main weapon they are carrying is a
Heckler & Koch MP 5 and the pistol is a Glock 9 mm. The sniper rile is a PSG 1. I trained with them at Manesar, he said.

But what is the NSG doing in this place, Sir? I wanted to know.

Thats beyond your pay grade, buddy. Now lets catch some sleep Maj. Gaur smiled.

We walked back to our tents and prepared to sleep. I could not stop thinking about the dozen black clad soldiers walking down the
hill, silently. What was the NSG doing here?

I knew that the NSG was the nations premier anti-terror force. It was divided into various operational units. 51 Special Action Group
was the anti-terrorist wing. 52 Special Action Group were the anti-hijack experts. Both these were drawn from the army. The Special
Rangers Group (SRG) was drawn from the police and the para-military forces and was responsible for VIP security of some of the
undesirables who comprised of our parliament and state assemblies.

For the superstitious, there are things, which are symbols of what may happen, good or bad. A guest at home in the morning is a
good omen. A crow crowing at night is the harbinger of bad news. What did a dozen black cats walking down a hill mean?

I shut my eyes and tried very hard to sleep.


Day & Date: 21 July 1996

Location: CITS, Sarol (Poonch & Rajouri Sector)

Jammu & Kashmir

Softies, Varun said with clenched teeth, sweat streaming down his face as he sprinted down the dirt track, finishing off the 5 km
BPET in just under eighteen minutes. He was panting and glaring at the smiling Armored Corps officers who were having tea outside
their tents, some of them clothed in their night suits. The Armored Corps guys waved at us, oblivious of the venom being spewed in
their direction.

Infantry officers have a unique relationship with officers of the armored corps. We think of them as soft, stylish, un-soldierly, over
confident and comfort loving, each progressive sobriquet more insulting than the last. There is an underlying layer of envy, too. We
see them as non-conformist as against our almost Calvinistic obsession with protocol and hierarchy, their comfort loving officers
mess as against our forever in operations style camp stools and their penchant for motor transport; its upsetting to see them zoom
in their Jongas and Gypsies, past our never ending bedraggled lines of sweat stained and bleeding bodies coming back from a LRP

(Long Range Patrol) or a cordon and search operation. However, most of this is perception. Armored Corps offices may not like to
walk when they can ride a Jonga, but none can deny that they are top-notch professionals.

I followed behind Varun, with Sam bringing up the rear. I was surprised to find the young officer lagging behind on a run, only to be
told later that he had finished in the first lot and had gone back to pick up a water bottle he had dropped.

Maj. Anuj and Maj. Gaur had finished and soon and Anuj, true to form, whipped out a packet of cigarettes, which he then started
distributing like candies at a birthday party. With each inhaled breath of smoke, both officers had increasing looks of contentment
on their faces, as if they had just found a solution to the vexing Kashmir problem. Wiping sweat from my face, I walked up to them.
Even a dyed in the wool and thoroughly OG officer like Maj. Anuj would not send me on another BPET. Not immediately, anyway.

Ready for the FIBUA class, Gary? Anuj asked me. FIBUA (Fighting In Built Up Areas) class was right after breakfast. All Grewals
and most Gauravs in the Indian Army are affectionately called Gary. All Chauhans and Chowdharys are Chow. Dont ask me why.
Thats just the way it is.

What should I say? Yes Sir. Three bags full Sir. Charging inside a house full of terrorists, each substance abused fractured mind
brainwashed for holy war, guns blazing and stun grenades popping my eardrums is my idea of fun, Sir. Lets do this every day of our
lives, Sir.

Yes Sir, I said, albeit a little too loudly.

We walked back to our tents. As I entered mine, a steaming cup of tea awaited me. Ramesh Chandra waited, with a glow on his face;
a glow which usually was the result of not exercising in the morning, having hogged the famed Indian Army aloo-puri combo in great
volumes and washing it down with sweet and steaming tea. The crook must have told the CHM (Company Havildar Major) about the
workload he was suffering from, a workload, which naturally comes from working with the Company Commander sahib.

I quickly took a bath, changed into fresh battle fatigues, or camouflage dress, as we like to call it and headed to grab a bite at the
makeshift officers mess. Maj. Yadav was having his usual toast and tea. Maj. Anuj was trying voodoo on the omelette, hoping that if
he stared at it for a substantially long period of time it would turn back into a hen. Maj. Gaur has finished a few omelets, a few cups
of tea and was now going through a few cigarettes.

Maj. Nair was trying to speak to Hav. Dharam Singh in Hindi. Dharam Singh deserved an Oscar for looking like he understood every
word. The CO was not there. It was a perfect setting. I quickly gobbled down my breakfast and had my cup of tea. It was sweet and

As we walked to the indoor shooting range for our first FIBUA class, I could not but help notice the beauty of the place. Snuggled
amongst mountains and blessed with clear mountain streams and pine trees, Sarol looked like heaven. No one casually passing by,
not that there was any chance of it, would have guessed the deadly trade that was plied here. In this piece of Himalayan heaven,
soldiers were taught how to kill cleanly and efficiently. Sarol was also the place that first introduced to us that dreaded word so alien
to the infantry lexicon deception. We settled down in the open-air amphitheater type classroom, chatting and generally having fun.

When the explosion happened, it happened with a force, which left us stunned. Mud and debris flew high and rained down upon us.
We were rooted to the ground and simply did not know how to react. Suddenly, masked figures in Pathan suits rose from the bushes
close to us, firing on us, weapons on full automatic mode. Varun was the first to react, diving down and taking cover. Immediately
after, all of us were on the ground. Sam thought he had died. Maj. Gaurs first reaction was to ensure the safety of his cigarettes.
Major Anuj was the only one who looked excited. Typical Anuj. He must have been thinking, Golly, oh gollynothing better than a
full metal jacket 7.62 mm AK 47 burst in the stomach right after breakfast.

Settle down, gentlemen. You are now dead, the voice over the PA system said. Having spent a lifetime taking orders, this part was
easy. We settled down.

My name is Col. Balvinder Singh Sandhu and I am your FIBUA instructor. My boys have been watching you take a leisurely walk
after a sumptuous breakfast. We ambushed you and killed all of you. You were sitting ducks. Col. Sandhu laughed at his attempt at
humor. Needless to add that he laughed alone.

Col. Sandhu was a six feet tall and athletic looking Guards officer. He had paratroopers wings, which impressed us all.

Gentlemen, I have served for ten years with 1 Para Commando (Special Force) before returning to my parent unit. I have also
served with 51 Special Action Group of the NSG. I am not going to teach you tactics. I will teach you how to kill without fuss or
ceremony. I will teach you to shoot without thinking and aiming. It is called reflex shooting, he said.

Col. Sandhu spoke for an hour, going into fine details of FIBUA filled with great anecdotes from his past experiences. He gave us a
15-minute break for tea. This was to be followed by live practice.

While stretching our limbs, our instructor was given a nickname. Balvinder Sandhu would be called Bull behind his back. With the
nickname decision behind us, and hot tea inside us, we were ready for some action.

The training was conducted at furious speed and in near dark. You could not see properly, you did not have the luxury of aiming; the
training area was a labyrinth of rooms and dark areas and targets popped up from nowhere. The cardboard figures were not just of
terrorists but also of civilians. The idea was to kill the terrorists and leave the civilians unhurt. This was the first time we were firing
semi-automatic weapons from a range of ten to fifteen feet. The whole experience was surreal, with smoke and flash-bangs going off
regularly. Half of us were almost blind and deaf by the time the first training session finished.

When the results were declared, Maj. Vijay Singh Yadav was at the top of the list (no surprises there) followed closely by Maj. Anuj.
The rest of us had killed a few civilians. Varun had shown undue respect to the terrorists by killing only civilians. Varun has not so
much as touched a terrorist. In fact, with him around we did not need terrorists. Maj. Anuj gave him a long you-better-improvefast stare.

This was the first time. By tomorrow I am going to be rocking, he said.

We walked back for lunch, all the time looking over our shoulders waiting for Bull to pull his ambush stunt again. However, even exparatroopers eat lunch and we were sure he was somewhere doing just that.

Lunch was an elaborate affair. Dharam Singh wanted to give us Chinese food to eat. I felt sorry for the Chinese. If they ever ate
Chinese food prepared under the supervision of Dharam Singh, they would give up all claims over Arunachal Pradesh. However, we
were all famished and so what if the noodles were bathed in tomato ketchup? And so what if the noodles were served with vegetable
cutlets and sambhar? And so what if such a combination was never heard of in the history of gastronomy? We were guilty of
changing the mans name, for Gods sake. The least we could do was to eat his food without complaining.

We retired to our tents for a bit of rest. At 1600 hrs, we gathered at the Weapons Training Wing where we were introduced to the
venerable AK 47 and it numerological cousins like VZ 58, AK 56 and distant relatives like RPGs, IEDs, pressure plates, impact fuses
and their ilk. This was what the enemy would use against us.

The enemy will attack when you least expect it. He will not wear a uniform. He will not follow the established rules of combat and
soldiering. And, he will not have or show any mercy, Maj. Karkhanis, our weapons instructor intoned.

You must never forget that Kashmir is like a beautiful snake pit. If the terrorist kills civilians, he achieves his target. Should you ever
do that, God forbid, you will be court martialled. Collateral damage is a reality of counter insurgency operations but we must keep it
to the bare minimum. Keep your emotions and temper in check. Where a bullet will suffice, try not to use a rocket launcher, he said
smiling, pointing to an 84 mm Carl Gustav rocket launcher kept in the corner.

Sometimes a friendly gesture can diffuse a situation. Do not do anything, which will alienate the locals. Always respect womenfolk,
elders and local religious teachers. However, should you come across cross border terrorists, shoot to kill. Show no mercy. They have
crossed the border to declare war on India. India has sentenced them to death. You are here to carry out that sentence, he added.
This rousing speech was met with a gentle snore from the back of the class. Maj. Gaur was a happy man. He was not merely dozing.
He was sleeping the sleep of the righteous.

Sir, get up, I whispered, gently nudging him in the ribs. This did not work. Maj. Gaur was a mountain of a man. I pinched him and
this woke him up. He smiled. I smiled. The class ended.

We retired to our tents for a bath and change of clothes.

Dinner was fried rice with steamed vegetables, both independently exquisitely tasty. However, together they did not amount to
much. We focused on the steamed vegetables. After dinner, as we gathered around for our ritual smoking and passive smoking
session, some officers wanted Dharam Singh to retire. The younger ones wanted him shot. Varun, overcome with emotion, even
volunteered to pull the trigger.

In peacetime, Officers Mess always has an officer who is the designated Mess Secretary who further appoints a Food Member and a
Wine Member to help him. But this was an operational area and no one wanted the buggery of deciding the daily menu. Cursing
Dharam Singh was far easier. And so we were condemned to eating roast chicken with plain rice and boiled eggs.

As the training progressed, our conventional mindsets started to melt away. We started speaking softly and started slouching. We
stopped saluting, because saluting a senior in a counter insurgency area was akin to signing his death warrant. Some started growing
a beard. All of us stopped wearing ranks.

As the days passed, we found that working in small teams was the key. No speaking when sign language could be used. The
instructors at CITS Sarol drilled these and a hundred other things into us day in and day out.

House entry drills were done over a dozen times everyday. We practiced ambush, counter-ambush, raid, CQB (close quarters battle),
road opening party drills, weapons training, explosives, map reading, first aid, cordon and search and it went on an on. Sarol looked
more and more forbidding after every sunset.

We were taught how sources worked, and how intelligence was gathered, analyzed and acted upon.

By end of six weeks, we had undergone drastic changes in the way we operated, thought and spoke. However, the most remarkable
change was that we were transformed into a fighting unit that could think like the terrorists and fight a very different kind of fight.
We had turned into something that the mujahedeen would fear.

We had become shadow warriors.